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April 5, 1999


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'India has a team that can go all the way'

Michael Holding

There is once again a new format for the 1999 World Cup tournament being held in the United Kingdom. As before, the twelve teams are divided into two groups of six but not only will the preliminary rounds decide the top three teams from each group to go through, the points earned will also be carried forward into the Super Six stage and used in case of teams ending up with equal status during the Super Six playoffs.

As usual, the traditional big names of six or seven countries have been divided so as to try to ensure that at most, only one will be eliminated before the Super Six stage. Group A contains the hosts England, reigning champions Sri Lanka, pre-tournament favourites South Africa, winners of the tournament the last time it was held on English soil India, plus the so-called minnows Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Group B contains Australia, also a pre-tournament favourite; former winners Pakistan; two-time winners and three-time finalists the West Indies, along with New Zealand, Scotland and Bangladesh.

 West Indies team
The West Indies must be quite happy to be in what seems the easier qualifying group, but still cannot take things for granted, if you remember its defeat at the hands of Kenya in the last tournament.

Australia, and the unpredictable Pakistan, surely can be realistically expected to go through with New Zealand and the West Indies in a battle for the third spot, as Scotland and Bangladesh should eaisly be outpointed by the Test-playing notions. While it is not inconceivable for the West Indies to beat Australia and/or Pakistan, emphasis surely has to be placed on beating New Zealand to guarantee Super Six membership.

New Zealand have never been a serious threat to the West Indies in the Test match arena but we all know the vagaries of limited overs cricket, and there is enough talent in a relatively young New Zealand lineup to create a few hiccups. You only have to look at their performances in the last World Cup tournament to appreciate what they are capable of -- they got to the quarterfinal stage against Australia, along the way beating the much-vaunted England with Nathan Asle getting a fine century.

The semi-finals seemed to be beckoning as well after they had scored 286 in their allowed 50 overs, this time Chris Harris being the centurion, getting a stroke-filled 130 runs batting at number five. That certainly would have been one of the shocks of the tournament, but Australia showed their class, getting to 289 for 4 with three overs to spare, powered by a Mark Waugh century.

While the West Indies may have things relatively easy in Group B to qualify for the Super Six stage, India have a bigger, more difficult task in Group A. Kenya and Zimbabwe may turn out to be easy hurdles to step over, but only three of England, Sri Lanka, South Africa and India can progress to the second round.

 Sachin Tendulkar
But I think India has a team that is capable of not only qualifying for the Super 6, but possibly going all the way. When you think of batsmen of the calibre of Jadeja, Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Azharuddin, it is obvious that the capability to get substantial totals abounds. All-rounders like Robin Singh and Ajit Agarkar won't go unnoticed either.

Then there is the bowling, spearheaded by Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, supported by the rising young star Agarkar who is deceptively quick and who, I suspect, will raise a few eyebrows in the UK this year if he is fully fit. In the slow department, there is the ever realiable Anil Kumble and of course, don't forget Sachin Tendulkar. His name may not appear at the top of most people's lists of one day bowlers, but he is very effective and may be even more so in the UK on some slow seaming pitches.

India basically has what is needed to be successful in limited overs cricket and, with people like Ganguly and Robin Singh to further enhance the options of skipper Azaruddin with their military medium bowling, the only obstacle I see standing in their way may be lack of enough experience under English conditions.

To overcome this perceived and probably real problem, India needs to get to the UK as early as possible and get as many games as they can under their belts. It should not matter how much it costs, as the Indian board is not a poor board and there are immense benefits to be gained from it. Even England, who are playing at home and obviously know the conditions very well, have organised warm up matches on May 7, 9 and 11, leading up to their opening game on May 14th -- and that should tell you how important preparation is for this tournament.

 Ajit Agarkar
The World Cup comes around only once every four years, and that is why I believe that a team as packed with talent as India is, should leave no stone unturned in their effort to secure the trophy once again. I should hope that a coach with the experience and respect of Anshuman Gaekwad will be able to impress upon his board the importance of being in England early, of spending long hours in the nets along with matches under the some conditions as the tournament.

If I get any wind of an early departure by the Indian team to the United Kingdom, even if it is just to play against some league teams, I know where my few pounds will be going when the bookmakers open their doors.

So what do you think, is 'Mikey' Holding justified in his optimism?


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